THE CENTRAL COMPONENT FOR INDEPENDENCE
My son Eran never experienced independence. He was born with severe cognitive disabilities, and during the 23 years of his life, he was completely dependent upon the kindness of others.
He did not even have the minimal independence to do the simplest activities on his own: to eat, shower, get dressed, use the bathroom – for every one of these tasks he needed our help. And yet, he was my greatest teacher, teaching me the importance of social activism as the central component in our struggle for independence.
The concept of independence is intertwined with the breadth of activity that is available to us. Free financial, military or political activities are all expressions of our level of independence.
It is commonly agreed that financial wealth brings with it a wide range of abilities and activities, as in the saying, “Where there is no flour, there is no Torah scholarship,” but all material resources should be guided by a social values system.
The Medrash Rabba states, “Derech Eretz precedes the Torah.” Derech Eretz refers to the code of human behavior, the social norms to which we all ascribe, the glue that connects us all together. Derech Eretz is the psychological unwritten contract that determines our commitment to each other: “All of Israel is responsible for one another.”
Educating our youth of Derech Eretz is the medium for the creation of a cohesive high-level society. As Eran’s father, I asked myself many times, “Why, Master of the World, did You create people with cognitive disabilities?”
The only answer that came to me was, “In order to test you.”
I believe that a society is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable members. Society can be cold and apathetic towards those people, or it can build for them a future of hope. The decision to act on their behalf is much more than just a measure of our kindness toward them; it is a basic need for our survival.
The moral credo of “We don’t leave the wounded behind on the battlefield” is not an ethic belonging only to the Israel Defense Forces and elite battle units. The test of our commitment to each other is in our ongoing educational activities as well as the personal example we set, for people learn most by studying the actions of their educators.
A cohesive high-level society is a tremendous force in preserving and strengthening our independence. Raising social cohesiveness and establishing it as a national goal can be done by nurturing the spirit of volunteerism and activity amongst our youth while at the same time promoting national programs and setting aside resources at our highest levels.
Goals such as investing in the wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of society, reducing poverty and unemployment levels, increasing the percentage of people completing high school and university, expanding per capita income, better integration of minorities and “different” populations within society – all of these are very important in reducing existing alienation and creating a cohesive high-level society.
But beyond all this, it is vital that we internalize and stress that independence is achieved and preserved only by those who are afire with the spirit of dedication and sacrifice, and that it will only survive in a place where there is genuine internalization of the role that social activism has as a central and leading component in the independence of the State of Israel.
Editor’s note: Doron Almog is the founder and leading force behind Aleh Negev, a residential village in the Negev providing residential care for those with special needs and outpatient services for soldiers and those with special needs throughout Southern Israel. Aleh Negev is supported through JNF fundraising efforts.
By Doron Almog,
Major General (Res)
Via JNF Southeast Region